On the heels of Skyscraper’s relaunch, we’ve been reviewing a number of records from mid-to-late 2010 that we missed out on covering during our semi-hiatus. Sort of a “what we missed” series of reviews, emphasizing both some of the best releases of 2010 and some of the year’s most interesting but overlooked records. This is one of those.
The Warlocks’ debut album Rise and Fall, originally released in 2001, is a contemporary space-rock gem. This reissue includes their very good eponymous EP from the previous year, plus eight previously unreleased tracks that merit release. Drawing primarily from the mid-to-late 1960s and late 1980s/early 1990s periods, The Warlocks forge a thick, formidable wall of psychedelic sound. At the time, this always large band encompassed 10 souls, which one can imagine would have made it hard to play small clubs. Like their West Coast forbears The Grateful Dead (who were previously known as The Warlocks, hmmm…) they use multiple drummers and embark upon percussive jams. The sleeve notes even list one Anton Newcombe, leader of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, as a stick-wielder. Early BJM is probably the closest contemporary to The Warlocks in terms of style; both Lab Partners and The Black Angels even more so, seeing as they all work in similar trippy territory. Multiple percussionists at various points provide a thunderous, driving, or shifting base onto which resonant bass, feedback, sustained guitar chords, and jangly riffs (played by at least three guitarists) are overlaid. In their widescreen vision and mind-expanding intent, several similarities can be seen between each of these modern bands, though Warlocks stand out as perhaps the very best.
I thought reviewing Rise and Fall would be a cinch, since I had already written up their debut for Skyscraper when Bomp! released it a decade ago. Consulting my old review, I was dismayed to find that the potency of The Warlocks’ opiate had reduced my mind to quivering jelly, so the review was mostly gibberish… I mean, avant-garde prose. Such is the potency of this barnstorming band. But it’s not all thunderbolts and raging seas; “Motorcycles,” a lilting waltz, presents their softer side. It recalls a lovely B-Side, “Then We’ll Rise,” by a first-wave shoegaze band that seems to have been influential, Chapterhouse. A band that influenced both Chapterhouse and The Warlocks is the iconic Spacemen 3 (which spawned Spiritualized and Spectrum, in turn). Spacemen 3 classic platters The Perfect Prescription (Glass, 1987) and Playing with Fire (Fire, 1989), with their use of minimalist drone alternating with maximalist hypnotic effects, are clearly signposts for The Warlocks. Likewise, so are the heavy distortion, simple chord structures, and disaffected vocals of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Other possible 1980s influences might include Love and Rockets (see “Cocaine Blues”), Butthole Surfers, and Loop. Going back further, a band that influenced all of these, The Velvet Underground (with or without Nico) is a huge touchstone both musically and in the image of the band. “Song for Nico,” from the EP, is kind of a big clue; it recalls not only VU but also Chapterhouse’s “If You Want Me” and early BJM. A love of the Rolling Stones and stoned grooves links The Warlocks with Primal Scream and their game-changing Screamadelica album (Creation, 1991). Along with VU and The Stones, another classic band, Pink Floyd, both of the Syd Barrett era in which they would freak out London audiences in 1966 and ‘67 with their tempestuous, unpredictable sonic explorations, and to a lesser extent, the smoother Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol, 1973) period, is clearly influential.
Led by Bobby Hecksher, The Warlocks are much more than the sum of their influences, however, and they aren’t a retro act. They have their own contemporary brand of swagger, decadence, irony, and dark humor. The Warlocks have released four albums since Rise and Fall, but their debut remains one of their best, and this reissue plus bonus disc is most welcome.Visit: The Warlocks
Purchase: Insound | eMusic